Taking Refuge

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In the front of the little white Bible my parents gave me, when I was old enough to keep it mostly white, was an inscription. I found it recently. In my mother’s delicate handwriting on the page inside the cover, I saw “Our prayer for you. Psalm 91.”

Am I the only one who doesn’t remember numbers or scripture references and who seldom takes the time to look them up? I have to admit that unless it is a very common reference like John 3:16, I nod and move on when a card is signed,
Best wishes on your birthday!
1 Samuel 21:14

“Thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say, and set it on the shelf until enough time has passed to drop it in the recycling bin without insulting anyone.

In the process of paring down our book collection a few years ago, I found my old Bible and read the flyleaf. At the time I felt the Lord was asking me to read Psalm 91 over and over, for weeks, because I wasn’t getting it. Somehow I knew it was important to get it.

I didn’t think it was meant for me. Such promises must have been written to a king, or maybe the Messiah. It felt presumptuous in a pathologically narcissistic way to think that I could take a passage of scripture written in another time for someone else and apply it to myself.

“Its too good for the likes of me,” I thought.

Psalm 91 kept showing up, though, in songs, in stories, in podcasts, sermons and accidental openings to that page.

Does Psalm 91 apply to everyone?” I asked the Lord. The answer is in the first verse. Who is this for? No. It’s not for everyone. It’s for those who take refuge in the shelter of the Most High.

Taking shelter is an action. It means choosing to run to God and not away from him. It means abiding in him, dwelling with him, staying close to him in the secret place in my spirit where we meet and spend time together. It means taking shelter under his wings instead of demanding explanations or running off to fix things myself. It’s believing there is something greater than my own understanding. It’s submitting by letting him help me. It’s admitting that God is God and I am not.

I don’t think baby birds can see much when they’re under Mama bird’s wings. It’s dark in there. I’m sure they are curious about what is going on outside where lights are flashing and siren voices screaming in alarm.

I don’t understand what is going on out in the world right now. What I am getting is a lot of reminders of Psalm 91. This is a time to run under his wings and submit to the one who offers protection.

I get it now.

Psalm 91

He who takes refuge in the shelter of the Most High
will be safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will say to the Eternal, “My shelter, my mighty fortress,
my God, I place all my trust in You.”
For He will rescue you from the snares set by your enemies who entrap you
and from deadly plagues.

Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers,
will protect you under His great wings;

You will not dread the terrors that haunt the night
or enemy arrows that fly in the day
or the plagues that lurk in darkness
or the disasters that wreak havoc at noon.

A thousand may fall on your left,
ten thousand may die on your right,
but these horrors won’t come near you.
Only your eyes will witness
the punishment that awaits the evil,
but you will not suffer because of it.
For you made the Eternal refuge,
the Most High your only home.
No evil will come to you;
plagues will be turned away at your door.

He will command His heavenly messengers to guard you,
to keep you safe in every way.
They will hold you up in their hands
so that you will not crash, or fall, or even graze your foot on a stone.
You will walk on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the lion and the serpent underfoot.

“Because he clings to Me in love,
I will rescue him from harm;
I will set him above danger.
Because he has known Me by name,
He will call on Me, and I will answer.
I’ll be with him through hard times;
I’ll rescue him and grant him honor.
I’ll reward him with many good years on this earth
and let him witness My salvation.”

-The Passion Translation

Marty Goetz sings a beautiful version:

 

 

Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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Carefree in the Care of God

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I looked out the window above my computer. This is what God’s voice sounds like — the rush of wings. This is what God’s voice looks like — birds feasting on berries in a mountain ash tree on a cold Canadian winter morning.

I was worrying. I went to the pharmacy this morning, expecting to pick up a prescription. It’s a unique medication formulated for a unique condition. (My case is “complex,” the doctors say, nearly every time I see them.)

The dear people who faithfully count out my pills told me they were just informed that the medication was on back-order and the company didn’t expect to be able to send any in the dosage I require until July. They seemed as shocked as I was.

This is not a medication one can suddenly stop taking without dire effect. I have an eight day supply left. My pharmacist is working to find a solution.

I was sitting here at my desk not feeling frantic with worry, but somewhat perturbed with worry when I heard a rush of wings and saw a flock of birds swoop past my window. The breeze they stirred up shook the panes slightly and immediately caught my attention.

In unison, they flew away, circled around the neighbourhood, then flew back. Then they flew away again. When they returned, they landed on the mountain ash tree, full of red berries ignored by other over-wintering birds and hanging from branches too high for the deer to reach.

It’s like a feast of unique red fruit was prepared months ago during the long hot days of summer and now, it beckons. A table spreads before them in the winter wilderness of snow and ice.

I suddenly remembered Jesus talking about his heavenly Father providing for the birds. All morning, well all week, really, I have teetered on the teary brink of feeling like I felt so often during my childhood — unnoticed, unimportant, out of step, and out of season in a wrong place/wrong time sort of way.

The unspoken question as faint as a birdwing fluttered in my heart: Do you see me? Do you care? Will you look after me when my own responses to “take care of yourself” are not enough?

The birds whooshed away and whooshed back a few minutes later. I watched. I listened. I heard.

“Take the carefree birds as your example,” He said to my heart. “Do you ever see them worry?”

“They don’t grow their own food or put it in a storehouse for later. Yet God takes care of every one of them, feeding each of them from his love and goodness.

Isn’t your life more precious to God than a bird? Be carefree in the care of God!”

(Luke 12:24 TPT)

He’s got this.

 

Worship: The Starting Point for Acquiring Wisdom

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The starting point for acquiring wisdom
is to be consumed with awe as you worship Jehovah-God.

To receive the revelation of the Holy One,
you must come to the one who has living-understanding.

Wisdom will extend your life,
making every year more fruitful than the one before.

(Proverbs 9:10, 11 TPT)

Motivation

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I walked by the off-leash park the other day. I watched the dogs for a while after their owners released them. Some stay close to the gate at first, but they soon run for the open field. They expressed such joy in freedom.

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I’m thinking about “motivation.” It’s the word suggested for meditation today in the Lenten Snapshot challenge I am following. At first I thought about taking photos of the obvious, symbols of motivations for doing what I don’t want to do, like scales or a boot to the rear. But I tend to look for something different, so I began to think about my motivation for extending myself to do what I actually do want to do and don’t have to do.

In the past few years my motivation has changed. I used to base my actions on wanting to please God, please my family, and not annoy my neighbours too much. That meant subjecting myself to other people’s standards, and to some extent, “God’s standards” as defined by other people’s standards (aka their interpretation of the Bible.)

My friend helped me realize that my quest has changed. We were discussing why I can’t seem to make progress on the novel I’ve been writing (mostly in my head) for years.

“You realize this story is about you,” she said.

“Of course, I do. I only know what I know –or think I know– and that is going to come out.”

“Your heroine was born in a prison, right?”

“Yes. And then she ends up in a cloistered convent against her will and eventually tries to escape.”

“You are the one who was born in a prison and kept in a kind of convent, you know. You were cloistered by legalistic religion. You are the both the writer and the reader. You hit writer’s block when you changed your audience to a demographic that would be marketable. You need to free yourself from asking ‘What would please this audience?’ and get back to writing your way out of convention to the place of your own freedom.”

I doodled on the paper in front of me because that’s what I do when I’m thinking.

“You’re good,” I told her. Believe it or not, I ran out of words.

She put her finger on an inconsistency in my life, a misalignment. My motivation used to be guessing at what other people wanted and then fulfilling that need to make myself useful, and thereby avoid rejection. I’m changing. I am looking for freedom.

My motivation is changing. This verse to “the foolish Galatians,” who were trying to gain sanctification by going back to earning approval via the old covenant laws, inspires me to do what I do, to worship, to paint, to take photos, to write, to walk in the countryside, to sit around the table talking to kindred spirits. The Passion Translation (which I am calling the emotional content version) puts Galatians 5:1 this way:

Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.

I took photos as I walked around another park yesterday (aptly named “Idlewilde”). Winter snow and ice still cover the hills and lake. Trees rest in a dormant season that seems particularly long this year. But I find freedom in what I see. I see rest.

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I am more motivated by freedom from performance-based Christianity, freedom from trying to meet expectations that do not come from my loving heavenly father, freedom to be a human being and not a human doing, freedom to rest and know I am loved perfectly by the One who created all this.

I hear him say, “Be still. Cease striving. Know Me. Know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth. I will be acknowledged by the nations. You are not in charge of fixing the world, nor my P. R.. You only have to extend the love you have known by the power of the grace you have been given.”

He takes off the religious leash and says, “Now run, girl. Run.”

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